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The new American love affair with Pinot Noir...Thank you Sideways

Updated on December 20, 2009

(Quotes from Sideways)

Maya: You know, can I ask you a personal question, Miles?
Miles Raymond: Sure.
Maya: Why are you so in to Pinot?
Miles Raymond: [laughs softly]
Maya: I mean, it's like a thing with you.
Miles Raymond: [continues laughing softly]
Miles Raymond: Uh, I don't know, I don't know. Um, it's a hard grape to grow, as you know. Right? It's uh, it's thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early. It's, you know, it's not a survivor like Cabernet, which can just grow anywhere and uh, thrive even when it's neglected. No, Pinot needs constant care and attention. You know? And in fact it can only grow in these really specific, little, tucked away corners of the world. And, and only the most patient and nurturing of growers can do it, really. Only somebody who really takes the time to understand Pinot's potential can then coax it into its fullest expression. Then, I mean, oh its flavors, they're just the most haunting and brilliant and thrilling and subtle and... ancient on the planet."

In perhaps one of the best moments of a great movie, Miles manages to capture the essence of the great love affair that many enophiles have with Pinot Noir.

Now, I have not been a wine-lover for very long..and even now I am still poking around in the dark most of the time, but I feel that being a newbie makes me open to somethings that my more "well rounded" friends are closed to. Wine from a keg...check....GREAT 90+ point wine (IMHO) from a box...check...home-made wine that I used to remove grease from my BBQ...check. Now, I am lucky in that I live smack dab in the middle of ground Zero for Oregon Pinot Noir which has afforded me the opportunity to scam some really great wines from friends and relatives who are involved in the business...from cellar rats to tasting room rats to bottling and shipping rats...we are all one big family of rodents and one thing rodents do well is to limit "waste" .... no drinkable wine goes to waste around us!

I do not remember the first time I actually drank Pinot Noir, and in all likely-hood, that is probably a good thing. My introduction to wine came while in High School and was a mix of pirated tank dredges and large jugs scammed from parents or acquired from the supportive older siblings of various friends.....I am pretty sure I still thought that Boones Farm was a real wine....What I do remember was listening to a relative who was involved in some of the first Pinot projects in the Willamette Valley...and thinking...what is the difference? Wine is just wine...just a way to get a buzz.

Yet, now, as I have "matured" I realize that Pinot Noir is a story that has a special hook for Americans, it is the story of the GREAT wine grape of Burgundy, the grape that MADE the venerable vineyards of the Cote de is the story of how a bunch of ex-hippies growing berries and Christmas trees decided to challenge the Snootiest of Snoots from Napa, Sonoma, Russian River, Carneros and the old world Burgundians at their own game.

Wine growing in Oregon is, for the most part VERY different from what you see in Wine Country in CA, let alone in France. Now, don't get me wrong, there are some uppity-ups here as well, but most of the vineyards are first or second generation grape growers and almost all of them used to grow mint, grass-seed, Christmas trees, raspberries or some other mundane crop. The reason I love this is because it frees the grape and the wine from the tyranny of image-consciousness and lets us focus on the actual product. Wine in MOST of Oregon is much like our micro-brew beers, a group of tiny to medium producers that know exactly where their ingredients are coming from, they know the names of the growers, they know what characteristics they will get from grapes on one hill vs. a hill 1 mile away. This is true artisanal wine making and this is how Pinot Noir must be made. Large batch Pinot from the Mega-growers in CA is, for the most part, simply a capitalization on the popularity of the variety. Pinot Noir is a cult if it is anything and the true masters lay everything they have on the alter in hopes of coxing out a few hundred cases of that "haunting" elixir that has Miles so entranced in the movie.

That might be why I love this specific wine so much...because it is so difficult, so hit and miss. This wine is much like us as human beings, from the day the vine is planted it is fighting against the susceptible to pretty much everything, from bugs to fungus to birds. It needs heat, rain and cool nights but just the right amount of each and only at the precisely right time. The skin of the grapes is too thin to stand extremes and too weak to give the tannic punch of its bigger, stronger siblings Cab and Merlot. The grapes themselves are tiny and hard to de-stem and are notorious for drying out, the wine goes through fermentation like a 2 year old, playful and full of promise and love one day and a screaming petulant terror the next. Too much oxygen hurts the wine, too little oxygen hurts the wine, even the pressure exerted by the pump used to move the wine from one barrel or tank to another can damage the wine...oh yeah, and it doesn't bottle well and certainly doesn't age well.....Sounds like fun doesn't it!!?? is BEACUSE of these challenges that I love this cant make great Pinot Noir without getting it right at every single step...from the soil the vines are in to the method you use to put the wine into the bottle and at every step along the have to get it right or you get an insipid shadow of what could have been...but when it is done right, when the ARTISTS that make greatPinot have given it their heart and soul you get that transcendent experience of which Miles speaks. That is why I am in love with Pinot is the artistry required by this wine....just like a truly great cook will take food into the realm of art, so a great Pinot Noir is nothing if not a fine work of liquid art.

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    • eventsyoudesign profile image

      eventsyoudesign 7 years ago from Nashville, Tennessee

      Great article. I love Pinot Noir. I guess it would be one of my favorites. I have friends who are so called wine snobs and believe the only good Pinots come from France, but I disagree. Oregon has some good Pinots and in fact I like Benton-Lane. Most people don't realize Pinot Noir has the highest levels of the antioxidant Resveratrol which in moderation has great health benefits for your heart as well as other health benefits such as arthritis. Thanks for sharing. I will read more. Teresa